article was published as a 3 part series in the April, May, and June 2002 issues
and More Magazine.
OUR HOUSE - SELECTING THE PERFORMANCE DONKEY
Tex S. Taylor, D.V.M.
is our understanding that the donkey section of the Mules and More Magazine
is intended as a forum to share donkey happenings, ideas and experiences.
This article and perhaps others to follow published under the lead in
ďaround our houseĒ is just that. They
will share observations, experiences, prejudices, opinions, and probably some
erroneous information on a variety of donkey subjects.
They may or may not be of value to others, but they are the criteria that
shape the breeding, training and exhibiting of large performance donkeys at
Bramoth Farm today. Tomorrow it may
be totally different.
note for the sake of writing and reading simplicity we will incorrectly refer to
mammoth asses as mammoth donkeys or just large donkeys.
our farm we envision two goals. The
first is to maintain a nucleus of the big old style draft type mammoth
Jackstock. The second is to breed
for mammoth performance donkeys suitable to todayís recreational donkey
interests. Although there is some
crossbreeding of these animals they represent two separate herds. Notice there is no mention of producing sires for todayís
saddle mule enthusiasts. We feel
that currently requires a different type animal.
Certainly, many of our jacks will be good potential mule sires, but we
envision all of them will have a place as good working geldings, even those from
the draft jennets.
first item to share should probably be our definition of a performance donkey.
Around our house the term performance donkey translates into show donkey.
They may never leave the farm nor enter a show, but they are expected to
have those qualities and skills that will allow them to enter any major donkey
and mule show with expectations of being competitive.
The show ring is where we will measure our progress.
This focuses on harness and saddle classes, not necessarily halter
classes. There are breeders whose
goal is to produce the ultimate conformation animal.
We have chosen not to try to produce both at the same time.
If they do their job well and we do our job well, can you imagine what
crossing the two strains might produce in a few years.
are focusing our efforts on breeding for animals to compete in pleasure driving,
obstacle driving, snigging, trail, western pleasure, donkeymanship and reined
working donkey. A donkey competent
in these classes can easily handle classes like reinsmanship, gamblerís
choice, ranch riding, game classes and with a little work speed events.
Although we have had some success in them, we try to minimize our
participation in timed events.
large mammoth donkey capable of competing in the previously listed events would
undoubtedly make an acceptable mount for English and dressage classes.
performance donkey should be able to walk, trot, lope and perform at some speed
beyond a lope. Transitions from one
gait to another should be made smoothly and over a short distance.
Transitions of gait should be made in response to the riderís command
and not unilaterally decided upon by the donkey.
The performance donkey should side pass and comfortably do hindquarter
and forehand turns. It should work
obstacles in harness and under saddle and it should back freely on minimal rein
pressure. The ability to do flying
lead changes, sliding stops and spins must be present.
These skills will soon be requirements for success.
before we leave the topic of required skills, letís address one other issue.
We cannot count the times people have told us ďI donít want or I
donít need a show donkey, I just want to trail or pleasure ride or pleasure
driveĒ. Granted, many peopleís
needs or wants can well be served by a ďwalk trot donkeyĒ, but is it not,
perhaps, more important to have many of these performance skills in the trail
and pleasure animal than in the competitive show animal?
If we ride an animal that wonít side pass, wonít back, wonít stop
and stand or refuses obstacles, we would prefer to be in the show ring and not
in the woods or along a busy roadway. In
the show ring, these inadequacies prevent the winning of a ribbon.
What could be the consequences on the outside?
of us have or will start our performance donkey association, not by selecting a
donkey for performance, but by electing to performance train a donkeys) that we
already have. It may be one we
raised, was given to us, we rescued it or we bought it because of those big soft
eyes. We love the donkey and wanted)
to expand the enjoyment of our time spent with it.
We may or may not be limited in the level to which the donkey can master
performance training. We really
donít care. In theses cases, we
donít need to worry about selecting a performance donkey, we direct our
efforts more to selecting a trainer or improving our own training skills.
you read this article keep in mind that at Bramoth farm we are trying to raise
better performance donkeys. We
raise most of the animals we train. Usually
if we train animals that are not raised on the farm they are of a similar
bloodline. Our selection process
starts the day the foal is born. Our
animals are not trained because we love them; they are trained because we think
they will make good performance animals. We
learn to love those that train well. We
hope those that donít train well will become loved by others.
is intended to be about selection and not about training, but there are some
training issues that are pertinent to selection.
Like people, not all donkeys learn at the same rate, nor do they respond
maximally to the same techniques. Neither
do they always have the ability to excel in events of our selection.
It is expected that a good trainer can, with a little time, read the
donkeyís personality and adjust their methods to provide maximum progress by
the donkey. How many of us are
really that good? In actuality,
qualified, experienced donkey trainers that accept outside animals are pretty
rare. If you are selecting an
animal to be trained, let your trainer aid in the selection.
Whether doing it yourself or employing a trainer the best results will be
attained by insuring the best possible match of donkey personality to trainer
methods. Bad match-ups often
produce poor results and neither party may be at fault.
is a plethora of trainers, training clinics, videos on training, well meaning
friends and self-declared experts available to the donkey owner. Those qualified and seriously addressing donkeys are limited
in number. We all draw from mule
and horse techniques as we develop our individual approaches to donkey training.
In the final formulation we must adapt or adopt techniques that apply to
donkeys. These techniques must fit
our personality, we must believe in them, and they must be effective using the
time we have available to apply them. Otherwise
the donkeys potential will not be achieved.
we will address some of the specific characteristics and qualities we look for
in our performance donkeys. These
are not necessarily in the order of importance.
Color Oneís first reaction would be that color is purely a personal preference issue. That is not necessarily the case with big donkeys. Unlike the horse where most bloodlines and breeds are represented by a multiple number of colors, mammoth jackstock has been bred for color in many settings. The overall gene pool is very small. It is not uncommon for the color of the donkey to be very indicative of temperament, movement and trainability. Many people do select their donkeys by color, around our house we do too, but for a different reason. We use it as a forecaster of trainability. In our hands using our techniques, the blacks train easier than the reds. We have some spotteds coming on and look forward to seeing where they fit.
We like for our performance donkeys to be between 58" and 62".
We often drive smaller animals, but if you see us riding one 57' or less
and you like what you see, check with us. If
it doesnít belong to someone else, it is for sale.
Just because we like the bigger donkeys, doesnít mean we feel they all
should be big. For ridding the real
issue should be to match the size of the rider to the size of the donkey.
The two should present a pleasing balanced appearance.
Suitability of rider to mount is or should be part of the judging
criteria. Small donkeys need to be ridden by small people.
The exception to this is that we cannot always find small trainers to
prepare the small donkey for its show career with a small rider.
lot has been said and written about the donkeyís ability to carry heavy loads.
In many developing countries they carry heavy loads that represent
40-50-100% of their body weight. They
often carry these loads for long distances and many hours.
They can do that. However,
it has its price. The average life
expectancy (for the donkey) in many of the countries is less than half that for
donkeys in the United States. There
are also many work related injuries. Further
note should be made that these heavy loads are usually carried at a walk.
Sometimes at a trot, but rarely at a lope.
They do not hold the lope, hand gallop, change leads, side pass or do
precise pivots under these loads. When
our rider and tack weight gets to 25-30% of the animals body weight, we probably
need to give serious consideration to how long we ride.
Much above that and we probably should not ride.
to the concern about weight is balance. How
many of us are good enough riderís to keep our weight appropriately centered
for the animalís best comfort and performance when we are on an undersized
animal. Couple this with the fact
that a saddle for a large person is unlikely to fit a small animal. It is difficult enough to fit a large personís saddle to a
The final point relative to size might be better suited to a discussion of conformation. That is bone. Experience with our donkeys and observations of others suggests that the performance donkey needs a little more bone than is preferred for a saddle mule sire. It appears that the lighter boned animals may have more lameness problems and may have a shorter working career. Since the donkey often has more upright digits and smaller feet it is not unexpected that they would be less tolerant of concussion than would a horse of equal size.
one questions that form leads to function or dysfunction. We would all like to have perfect conformation in our
animals, but no one has reached that point yet.
Few, if any, people would disagree that in general the standard donkeys
and smaller mammoths are better conformed than the larger donkeys.
The miniatures, as a group are probably well ahead of the standards.
we know what correct conformation for the performance donkey really is? In horse breeds, correct conformation seems to vary as
specialized breed use is reached. I
believe we are beginning to see and will continue to see desirable variations in
conformation as we widen the scope of our uses of donkeys and mules.
Certainly there are some conformation faults that are universally bad.
we look at the big picture for performance animals and accept that the perfect
animal is not yet available, what are the critical issues.
Just how serious is a little sickle hocked, a little cow hocked, legs a
little close together or toe out conformation.
How much is too much? Which
of these conditions are truly the most likely to contribute to unsoundness?
Which are the most likely to be passed on to offspring?
How many of these conditions are truly genetic faults and not the results
of inadequate or improper foot care and nutrition?
I think most people would be shocked at how often our so-called
conformation faults are the results of environmental influences, or at least
their degree of severity was influenced by them.
to muddy the water a little, consider this.
We know that the angles of the pelvic bones of donkeys are different from
horses. There are some early
observations that as we widen the rear legs and round the rump of big donkeys we
may be predisposing them to degenerative arthritis of the hips.
What will be the price for molding our impressions of correctness on the
believe there are a lot of people that talk about conformation and know what, to
them, is correct conformation. We
believe there are very few people who know how to interpret the variations. We do not include ourselves in that knowledgeable group.
We arenít sure what the boundaries of tolerance for conformational
traits are, and what traits are appropriately changed as we redefine the uses to
which the animals are subjected. However, that should be no surprise as our combined
experience with performance use of donkeys is only a little over 35 years.
bright spot in all this is that there seems to be a steady increase in people
wanting donkeys for all phases of performance.
If during the next 10-20 years we observe well we should be able to
gather facts that will clarify just where each conformational feature fits.
the meantime, around our house, we will pick the best conformation we can find
on a big, good moving trainable donkey, and be very happy if each successive
generation is just a little bit better.
about pretty? No doubt the perfect
conformationed animal would be a beauty. We
think many people confuse the two. Pretty
is desirable, but ugly does not necessarily interfere with function.
Many of the qualities we hear people really get serious about has little
if anything to do with the animalís ability to function.
Look at our human athletes. The
outstanding performers are not always the ones most pleasing to the eye. We sort of like ugly if it is blue. Ugly that is always last out of the arena is not to pretty.
For most people jennets or geldings are preferred for obvious reasons.
We started showing when Ethel was 10 years old.
Most of our training was directed toward preparing animals for her to
show. Jacks were not an option.
Since we are a breeding farm, we felt that to put some proven performance
animals in the breeding herd would be of long-range value. This further focused our training on jennets.
We have trained some jacks and some geldings.
We have not taken this to the same level we have taken the jennets nor
have we extensively competed with the males.
It is our impression that the jennets are the easiest to train.
That is not to say that the jacks or geldings might not learn faster, it
is just that it is easier and quicker to get the jennets really dependably
Jacks and geldings do appear to be able to condition faster and work longer at
more difficult tasks.
jennets pose a problem for training and exhibiting during estrus. In our experience the better trained they are the less of a
problem this becomes. It should be
kept in mind that a significant percentage of geldings will show some degree of
jack like behavior regardless of when they were castrated.
our house we will probably always prefer jennets, but not by much.
preference is to start them as two year olds.
We donít imprint our foals and in fact they are handled very little
until serious training is begun. The
best ones are usually those that are started as yearlings or two years old.
They are taught ground work and driving until at least three years of
age. At age three we start doing
those things that they know how to do on the ground from the saddle.
Delaying groundwork until the animal is three years old and riding when
they are ready also works well. Sometimes
the riding isnít done until they are four years old.
have started some older animals. They
were in the 6-9 year range. They do
okay but seem to be a little harder or slower to train and donít seem to ever
be quiet as good as an animal of similar ability started younger.
most important thing about movement is that the performance donkey must have
some. Long before we address how a
donkey moves we want to know if it moves. What
does it take to get it to move? Does
it seem to enjoy moving or does it move only when all other options have been
exhausted? If startled, does it
depart at a trot, a lope or not at all? The
best performance candidates like to trot and lope.
They do it with minimal stimulation and usually go somewhere when they
can summarize what we look for in quality of movement by saying we want donkeys
that move as much like Western performance horses as we can get.
These two traits are so intertwined that we wonít try to separate them.
They are sometimes separated by the donkey.
Movement could almost be covered in this same area.
Breeding and bloodlines have a major impact on all three traits, but that
topic will be left for another day.
mentioned, nearly all the animals we train are animals we raise.
We raise them more like cattle. They
are caught for vaccinations, foot trimming, deworming and other required
procedures. Otherwise they are left
alone until training is begun. This
is primarily a time deficiency thing. Our daily observations of these growing animals is focused on
identifying those individuals showing qualities we feel would allow them to
perform at or near the level demonstrated by national level competitive
performance donkeys. We look for
animals that have acceptable eye appeal and exceptional awareness of their
surroundings. We want animals that
react to subtle changes in their surroundings.
at feeding time, we throw an empty bucket into the air and yell real loudly when
it hits the ground; we want the first donkey to reach the back of the pasture.
The one that left at a lope or a run.
In our experience, those that just stand around like a stump, will react
the same way to training ques. We
donít want to train a pet, we pet what is trained.
We want the animal that prefers the lope to the trot and the trot to the
training program requires the animal to learn with few repetitions. They must have the ability to practice multiple skills during
the same session. We want animals
that rarely if ever just sets his or her head and tries to bull their way to or
Our final criteria for selecting a performance donkey is their response
to training. We have started or
trained enough performance donkeys that we feel we can, in a relatively short
time, form an accurate opinion as to whether or not a given animal will make
what we want in the training program we use.
animal is given a three-day or three-lesson evaluation.
They are worked in a square pen, a round pen and a large open area.
Their response to the early steps in ground control, round pen work and
trail obstacles is observed. Special
attention is given to their willingness to demonstrate forward motion and their
quality of movement. An assessment
of the speed with which they learn is made.
They are then placed in one of the following categories.
Animals that have the
potential to become nationally competitive performance donkeys in our
Animals that have the
potential to become nationally competitive donkeys, but will probably
require a major modification of our training program.
Animals that we donít feel
have the ability to become nationally competitive donkeys, but may excel in
4. Animals whose potential for performance does not justify our time investment.
we raise most of what we train, we usually identify the category C and D animals
without ever having to test them. When
considering the category B and C animals a primary question is; ďDo we have
the time to modify our program for this animal or would he or she be better off
under a different trainer?Ē
us reiterate what we think are some important issues from these three articles.
Our ideas and methods are always changing.
We have very specific and narrow expectations for the donkeys we train.
We aim to select donkeys mentally and physically suited to our training
program. Currently we donít have
the time nor the inclination to modify our methods to suit other donkeys that
might be even better than the ones we select.
Although we have worked successfully with donkeys of all sizes, we are
discussing only the larger group.
Our goal was to stimulate others to share their views and experiences with the readership. There are some things that are always wrong and perhaps a few that are always right, but in general different people reach the same goal by different methods. Sometimes it is almost shocking how different. However, if we look a little closer it may be just as shocking how much alike these different methods are.
This page was created by Annie Ruth Taylor, Bramoth Farm
3091 Pleasant Hill Road Bryan, Texas 77807 Phone: (979)775-6584
Copyright © 2001 by Bramoth Farm, All rights reserved.